I’m continuing my annual countdown of my top 50 board games of all time! If you missed the previous post, you can find it here:
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#20 - Yellow & Yangtze (-9)
One trait that is common in two-player abstract games is when the game state evolves into configurations that leave the players thinking, “this is a fascinating situation I’ve never seen before!” Yellow & Yangtze is an example of a game that elicits these feelings in a multiplayer context, and with enough random elements (i.e. blind tile draws) to ensure that every game plays out differently. There is a lot of opportunity for clever moves, and it is difficult to know exactly who is winning since points are hidden and limited by your weakest color. I haven’t played Yellow & Yangtze’s older brother Tigris & Euphrates, but I think the new edition is probably a better fit for my more casual game groups. That said, it sounds like Yellow & Yangzte is unlikely to ever get reprinted, so I’m glad I have my copy!
#19 - Brass: Birmingham (-6)
Speaking of games where the board evolves into fascinating configurations… Brass: Birmingham is another great example in that category. Much like Yellow & Yangtze, it has the concept of the “infrastructure” of the board not being owned by a single player, which opens lots of opportunities for players to cleverly utilize changes made by other players. I haven’t had the chance to play Brass as much as I’d like to, but my few plays have been really positive and felt very different from any other strategy games I have in my collection. I also love the concept of a game being played in two halves where the second half resets with a subset of the board changes carrying over. Another one to add to my list to get played soon!
#18 - Keyflower (-2)
Keyflower is a game that doesn’t fall neatly into the normal categorizations of modern strategy games. On one hand, it is a resource-management game where players are building up their own personal network of tiles. On the other hand, all of the actions are driven by a unique auction mechanism where competing bids must match the colored suit of the first bid on that item. And the “items” being auctioned simultaneously are all over the place: bidding for a new tile, bidding to use a new tile, bidding to use one of your own tiles, bidding to use an opponent’s tile… One side effect of this flexibility, combined with the color-constraints on actions, is that Keyflower can get cutthroat. New players will hit a point where they go, “wait, if I just bid on that player’s tile first with a color they don’t have, they’ll be completely blocked from using it this round…” and that is when they realize it isn’t the play-nice “build my own village” game that they thought it was. But it all comes together into a fascinating puzzle with really dynamic interactions; just best if all the players know what they are getting themselves into.
#17 - Tichu (-3)
I can’t help but feel sad about this being the third entry in a row that I haven’t played in the past year… but Tichu has been a cornerstone of my top 20 games of all time ever since I started my annual rankings. As far as more traditional card games go, Tichu is far and away my favorite, and such a rewarding game to play with a consistent group of players. So many rich decisions as each hand plays out, and the partnership play really adds a layer of strategic complexity. Much like my favorite dexterity game Crokinole, games of Tichu continue until players reach a predetermined point total, which means that there is always room for a big comeback. You can read more about why I love Tichu in my full review linked below, but after 100+ plays it has a pretty secure spot in my favorite games of all time.
Read My Full Review:
Board Game Review: Tichu
Tichu is a strategic partnership card game, played with an almost standard deck of cards, released in 1991 by designer Urs Hostettler. While variants exist, it is primarily a four-player game where each partnership works together trying to play all the cards in their hands before their opponents, while also trying to capture tricks that will score at the end of the round.
#16 - The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (+5)
Another game that has been a staple of my top 20 for a long while now, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game got a nice boost this year due to acquiring some new expansions and playing more than I have in recent years. One reason for the increased play is that I actually have pulled it out for some solo games (still played two-handed), which has been a great way to explore more of the content and scratch that board gaming itch. I was very pleased to see Fantasy Flight Games announce a new edition of the Saga expansions that cover the main Lord of the Rings narrative, as I wondered if I was every going to have the opportunity to pick them up without paying exorbitant secondhand prices. My enjoyment of the game is definitely boosted by my affinity for the Lord of the Rings theme, but even after so many plays I still enjoy creating new decks and strategizing my way through the various scenarios.
#15 - Hallertau (NEW)
Uwe Rosenberg creates a lot of big-box, farming strategy games that appeal to a similar group of gamers, and I find myself right in the middle of that target demographic. It is always hard to pull the trigger on new Rosenberg games though: will a new one be different enough from those I have to warrant splitting plays among them versus just playing my favorites? Hallertau is one that I was pleased to find was a really fresh experience, and one that I am happy to have in my collection among my favorites. It has a number of little twists, such as worker placement spots that get more expensive the more they are used, fields producing more crops the longer you wait to plant in them, and the primary objective being to progress your community center by paying various combinations of crops and goods. It plays really smoothly and is full of satisfying moments, and I was happy to find that it plays in less time than my other favorites, further differentiating it in my collection. Really looking forward to playing this one more.
#14 - KeyForge (+4)
This feels really high for a two-player dueling game like KeyForge, but I can’t deny that it is a game that I just always enjoy playing. For my most recent play, we just grabbed two random decks from my collection and had a great time. That ability to just “pick up and play” is such a strength of KeyForge, and is really made possible by the unique decks that are ready to go without any deck-building. I haven’t even delved into any sets newer than the first two, but for my casual purposes, that hasn’t limited my enjoyment. In fact, it is has been great to pick up new old decks for dirt cheap — every new unique deck adds to the fun matchups that my collection can support. I also have twice hosted full-day, 8-player, double-elimination KeyForge tournaments that have been a great time, and KeyForge is the perfect combination of casual play, strategic depth, and short-playing time for a self-hosted mini tournament. Take away the “unique game concept” and I still love the core mechanisms (the “pick one house each turn” rule is brilliant), but the ease of acquiring new fun and unique decks just really puts it over the top.
# 13 - Dune: Imperium (NEW)
As I watched Dune: Imperium climb the BoardGameGeek rankings after its release, I knew it was a game that I would want to acquire, and that I was almost guaranteed to really enjoy. I was correct, and it proves to be my highest ranked new game since last year. It combines two mechanisms that I really enjoy, worker-placement and deck-building, and I like how the game is grounded in the Dune theme. I am really looking forward to picking up the Rise of Ix expansion, as I think it will give the game the legs it needs to be a long-time favorite in my collection. It is nice to find a satisfying strategic game that also falls closer to the 90-minute play time, as opposed to the 2-3 hour length of so many of my favorites. It has been a relatively easy game to get to the table, so I am looking forward to that continuing in the next year.
#12- War of the Ring (+7)
More than any game in my collection, my enjoyment of War of the Ring is boosted by my enjoyment of the theme. The Lord of the Rings is arguably my favorite fictional story and world, and War of the Ring is the definitive epic Lord of the Rings tabletop experience. It is a game that you schedule a full day around, put a Lord of the Rings movie soundtrack on in the background, and just smile as you watch the epic story unfold in a new and unique way. The strategy is interesting and satisfying, but the narrative the game produces outweighs any feelings about winning or losing. I am looking forward to adding in some expansions to make the game even more rich and epic, and I am glad such an amazing design exists for one of my favorite themes.
#11- Underwater Cities (+1)
Underwater Cities has been a really sneaky strategic game on my list. I don’t often think of it in the “top tier” of my favorite strategy games, but every time I play it, I have such a good time and those experiences have it just slowly bumping its way up my list. The core mechanism of using one of your three cards to take an action of the same color just makes the gameplay so tactically satisfying, and each turn you get to draw a new card to open up new opportunities. The network that you create on your board isn’t has compelling as a lot of other games that have you building your own personal tableau, but it is good enough to be a satisfying end product of all your little strategic decisions. The massive New Discoveries expansion definitely helped to push Underwater Cities higher on my list, and the data doesn’t lie; it is one of my favorite games!
Keep reading for my top 10!